Keeneland gets off to strong start with its first Thursday opener in 60 years

Sights and sounds on Keeneland’s opening day

Spectators attend Keeneland's opening day for the spring 2019 meet. Race-goers wore pastels and florals matching the flowers on trees while sipping drinks and watching the races.
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Spectators attend Keeneland's opening day for the spring 2019 meet. Race-goers wore pastels and florals matching the flowers on trees while sipping drinks and watching the races.

It was the first Thursday opener to the Keeneland Spring Meet in 60 years, and the weather cooperated — offering a beautiful day to fans who came to the track for an eight-race card that didn’t get going until a little after 3 p.m.

Some highlights from the day of racing:

Still undefeated

In the Thursday feature and lone stakes race of the day — the $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint — Bulletin was impressive from start to finish for trainer Todd Pletcher, surging in the stretch and easily holding off a late charge from Real News to win by 1 1/2 lengths under Javier Castellano.

The even-money favorite in the 5 ½-furlong race, Bulletin improved to 3-for-3 on his career. This was his first start since winning the first running of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs last November. WinStar Farm racing manager Elliott Walden said the Royal Ascot in June might be next for the talented 3-year-old colt.

“That’s kind of what we’re looking at,” he said. “We’ll huddle up with Todd, let him do his job. He did a great job getting (Bulletin) ready for today. The horse was 3 (lengths) in front at the eighth pole, and I knew he wasn’t going to get beat then. He’s a very talented horse. We’d be honored to go to Royal Ascot.”

A ‘Smarty’ start

A 2-year-old daughter of Smarty Jones kicked off the Keeneland Spring Meet in impressive fashion with her gate-to-wire romp in the first race Thursday.

Mean Sophia — at 13-1 odds — prevailed by 10½ lengths in a full field of 12 in the meet opener, pulling away in the stretch under jockey Agustin Gomez. The Smarty Jones filly — bred by Calumet Farm, trained by Cirilo Gorostieta and owned by Savannah Goebel — also topped some gaudy exotics on the tote board.

The odds for the top four finishers were 13-1, 30-1, 40-1 and 16-1. That resulted in a $1 exacta payout of $252.60, a $1 trifecta payout of $1,123.10 and a 10-cent superfecta payout of $10,337.34.

Not a bad start at the betting window.

Trainer Cirilo Gorostieta and owner Savannah Goebel celebrated after their horse, Mean Sophia, won The Shamrock Glen Julep Cup in the first race Thursday during opening day at Keeneland. Alex Slitz

Remember him?

Instilled Regard — the fourth-place finisher as an 85-1 shot in last year’s Kentucky Derby — made his return to the racetrack in Thursday’s fifth race, an $83,000 allowance race on the turf. It was Instilled Regard’s first start in more than four months, and his third start for trainer Chad Brown, who got the 4-year-old colt last summer after he was moved from Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn.

The 2-5 favorite Thursday afternoon, Instilled Regard took the lead in the stretch but was caught by 10-1 shot Admission Office near the wire and finished second. He’s now winless in six starts since taking the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds last January.


The official attendance for Thursday’s race card was a crowd of 11,061, who experienced the first such opener to a Keeneland Spring Meet since 1959. The past 33 spring meets have opened on a Friday, and it alternated between Friday and Saturday before that. While Thursday’s attendance was down from past openers, it was still a strong number for an unorthodox starting date.

Last year’s Friday opener drew 18,374 fans, and the average crowd over the past five Spring Meet openers was 14,476.

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Bulletin (12) with Javier Castellano up won the first running of The Palisades Turf Sprint at Keeneland on Thursday. Alex Slitz

A history maker?

Two years ago, in the 93rd running of the Blue Grass Stakes — Keeneland’s signature Kentucky Derby Prep race — history was made. Irap, who until that day had never been to the winner’s circle in seven previous starts, became the first maiden winner of the Blue Grass.

On Saturday, we could see a little more history.

Vekoma comes into this year’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes as the 9-5 favorite, but it will be only the fourth start of his young career. No horse since Coaltown in 1948 has won the Blue Grass with just three previous lifetime starts.

A May 22 foal, Vekoma goes into Saturday’s race with a victory in last November’s Grade 3 Nashua Stakes on his resume. The 3-year-old son of Candy Ride was on the sidelines for nearly four months before finishing third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in early March.

“He is a late May foal and after the Nashua last year he indicated he may need a break, so we … decided to focus on his 3-year-old campaign,” trainer George Weaver said Thursday morning after Vekoma galloped on the main track.

Javier Castellano will be on Vekoma for the first time Saturday after Manny Franco was aboard for his first three starts. Castellano was aboard Vekoma for a workout last weekend in Florida.

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